Friday, February 1, 2013

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Casting Coup Month: Jaws

Best Music, Original Dramatic Score - John Williams (WON) 
Best Film Editing - Verna Fields (WON)
Best Sound - Robert L. Hoyt, Roger Heman, Jr., Earl Madery, John R. Carter (WON)

Poor Steven Spielberg.

I know, I know. How does one begin a post about Jaws by lamenting anything about its director, who has three Academy Awards in addition to twelve nominations, is a multi-millionaire (billionaire?), and is one of the most revered and beloved names in Hollywood?

(Perhaps you'll find out apres le jump)

Yes, it's certainly hard to say, "Poor Steven Spielberg," when discussing this film, the megahit of 1975 that forever changed cinema. It was the first big summer blockbuster, breaking box office records and setting a precedent for future studio fare. It won acclaim for its young director, now able to write his own ticket anywhere despite not even being 30. Gums spoofed it; Orca emulated it; "Land Shark" became a popular sketch on Saturday Night Live. And it broke the genre barrier at the Oscars.

Difficult, indeed, to pity a kid in his twenties who directs a film that garners three Academy Awards -- and not too shabby ones, either. It even took its place among more "serious" fare like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Barry Lyndon as a Best Picture nominee (it lost to Cuckoo's Nest). Sure, Spielberg missed out on a Best Director nomination, but I don't even think that's a shame -- Federico Fellini got in for Amarcord, after all. Think about it: the only way this young upstart could miss out on an Oscar nomination was to import a cinematic legend.

I guess I'm lamenting the fact that he's never been known as an actor's director. When we think of Spielberg, we think of spectacle. The bike scene in E.T., the shark in Jaws, the UFOs in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the rolling boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Normandy Beach sequence in Saving Private Ryan. Rarely does one come out and say, "And he directed the shit out of Drew Barrymore, Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford, Vin Diesel, etc." Yet, beginning with 1974's The Sugarland Express, Spielberg has often shown a marvelous gift for getting big stars to evoke everyday homebodies, with even the most questionable of actors giving fine, unstilted performances in his work.

Jaws, I think, is a perfect example of what he can do with actors. The entire last section hinges on the chemistry between three very different men -- Chief Brody, who hates the water; Matt Hooper, who loves sharks; and Quint, who kills things. If they don't click, we've got thirty or forty minutes of tedium. And not only does Spielberg bring out remarkable camaraderie and tension between these men, he patiently watches as they drunkenly bond over scars and war stories instead of searching for the shark. And the audience loves it.

Perhaps just as impressive is the ensemble he assembles. Lorraine Gray would never be as good as she is in her brief turn as concerned wife and mother Ellen Brody, sharing an affectionate warmth with Roy Schieder. Murray Hamilton and Carl Gottlieb, Jr., were convincing in both their homegrown folksiness and formidable power-wielding. And, then, of course, there's my favorite moment:


I guess my point is this: the score is great, the camerawork superb, but much of Jaws hinges on its cast. And Spielberg and Co. gathered the best damn ensemble imaginable.

Let's see if I can, too.

Who is He: Mayor. Keen to keep the beaches open during tourist season and have everyone shut the hell up about this shark business.

Originally played by:
Murray Hamilton (Jaws 2, The Amityville Horror)

My Choice: SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (Argo)
Kyle Chandler (Super 8, Zero Dark Thirty)
I'd like to see his identifiable, everyman-ish-ness put to more oily, snaky use. Already were there hints of a helpless bureaucrat in his Zero Dark Thirty performance; let's up the ante.

Who is She: Brody's wife.

Originally played by:
Lorraine Gary (I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, Jaws: The Revenge)

My Choice:
Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married, Your Sister's Sister)
So warm! So nurturing and lovely and great!

Who is She: Marine biologist, shark expert. Loved sharks ever since one almost killed him as a young 'un, turning his inboard into an outboard. Goes along for the long sea journey and butts heads with the more macho Quint.

Originally played by: Academy Award/BAFTA Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor [Musical/Comedy] (The Goodbye Girl)
Richard Dreyfuss (The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Close Encounters of the Third Kind)

My Choice:
John Krasinski (Big Miracle, Promised Land)
Hooper's kind of a snot, and one of the things I liked about Krasinski on The Office is how he shades lovable Jim Halpert with the slightest arrogance. He could deliver the smug, but shaded with his boy-next-door quality that could be endearing to us and frustrating to Quint. 

Who is He: Fisherman, shark hunter, survivor of a WWII catastrophe that saw his ship torpedoed and half his crew devoured by sharks. Possesses an Ahab-like madness in killing the thing.

Originally played by: Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Jaws), Academy Award/Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (A Man for All Seasons), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actor (Young Winston)
Robert Shaw (From Russia with Love, The Sting)

My Choice: Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Actor (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)
Mathieu Amalric (Quantum of Solace, Cosmopolis)
A mysterious outsider, a bad-assery. Amalric's performance in Munich sold me on his ability to take on Quint, though it's worth noting that he, too, was once a Bond villain.

Who is He: Chief of police of Amity Island, deathly afraid of the water, but willing to face it to save his town and family. Formerly of New York. Blames himself for the death of the Kintner kid, since he caved under pressure from the city council to keep the beaches open.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor (All That Jazz) and Best Supporting Actor (The French Connection), BAFTA Award/Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor [Musical/Comedy] (All That Jazz)
Roy Scheider (Sorceror, Blue Thunder)

My Choice: Academy Award/BAFTA Award/SAG Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor, SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (The Kids Are All Right)
Mark Ruffalo (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Avengers)
The great key to Chief Brody is to have someone with an everyman quality -- indeed, that seems to be the running trait of all these characters. I guess Ruffalo is considered some kind of thinking woman's pin-up, but he's certainly approachable-looking enough to pass for a small-town sheriff. Oh, and he's a pretty solid actor in general.

Best Actor: Mark Ruffalo
Best Supporting Actor: Mathieu Amalric, Kyle Chandler, John Krasinski
Best Supporting Actress: Rosemarie DeWitt

But don't let the conversation end here. Who would you cast in a hypothetical Jaws remake? 


MovieNut14 said...

Ooh, I like this.

Anonymous said...
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Unknown said...

Good choices except:

Chris Cooper I always thought would make an excellent Quint.

Bryan Cranston or James Gandolfini would play a great mayor who only sees the people as money.

Unknown said...

Good ideas EXCEPT:
Chris Cooper seems more of a Quint, always have been to me

Kyle Chandler is a good choice, but to me Bryan Cranston or James Gandolfini would be excellent for the mayor.